Is there a more underrated young actor around than Johnny Depp? Don Juan de Marco, Ed Wood and What’s Eating Gilbert Grape are just a few of the recent films in which the 31-year-old actor showed his impressive chops. Depp built it (a solid body of work), but they (audiences) did not come. So don’t hammer the guy too hard for Nick of Time, a subpar suspense drama meant to goose his career with a box-office hit the way Speed did for Keanu Reeves’. To his credit, Depp doesn’t act like he’s slumming. But, oh, boy, is he ever.
Depp plays Gene Watson, a nerdy, bespectacled accountant just off the train at Los Angeles’ Union Station with Lynn (Courtney Chase), his 6-year-old daughter. Before Gene can leave the depot for a job interview, he is approached by Mr. Smith, played by Christopher Walken, which already tells you it won’t be a good day for the innocent. Smith’s henchlady, Ms. Jones (Roma Maffia), grabs the kid while Smith lays down the plan: Gene will take a gun over to the Westin Bonaventure Hotel and shoot the governor of California (Marsha Mason), who is giving an afternoon speech. If not, the kid dies.
The gimmick in the script by Patrick Duncan and Ebbe Roe Smith is that the film will take place in the actual time, 90 minutes, that Gene has to complete his mission. Alfred Hitchcock played a similar time trick in Rope in 1948. Director John Badham (Drop Zone) can’t even cut it as a hack Hitchcock. A movie in which time is of the essence is really a botch job when you don’t believe a minute of it.